This month, painter Kenny Ebright marks his 25th anniversary with H.J. Holtz & Son. The only person who’s been with the company longer is president Rick Holtz, who started just nine months before Ebright.
Some might think they were destined for a rocky relationship, given one of Holtz’s first directives to the newest member of the Holtz team.
“My hair was short in front, but I had a long braid – down to my waist almost – that I put up under my cap,” Ebright recalls. “Rick saw me take my cap off one day as we were leaving a [work] site, and said, ‘Here’s $20; take the rest of the afternoon off and go get a haircut.’”
Ebright acquiesced that time, but on other occasions, his response was different.
“Yeah, I tried to quit five times,” he says, laughing. “But Rick wouldn’t let me leave. He’d follow me out and say, ‘I’d rather you not do that’; he’d use some sort of psychology on me, and I’d stay.”
Both agree it’s been years since Ebright has tried to walk away.
“Back then, Kenny’s temper would sometimes get the best of him,” Holtz says. “He’s been here so long now, he’s really family. My kids think of him as an uncle.”
Ebright agrees: “When he’d get under my skin, I’d just work harder,” he says. “I love working here. We’re just like family.”
Over the years, Ebright has trained many of the company’s painters, ensuring a consistent approach both to the job at hand and to serving customers. In his early days at Holtz & Son, Ebright says, it was common for people to be hired but not have the skill set to remain. “They’d hire 10 [people] to find one who’d work,” he says, adding that the company’s deliberately measured growth over the years makes it easier to find and retain the right people.
Ebright now specializes in working with Fine Paints of Europe, a high-end coatings line. FPE coatings require careful surface preparation, because they will show imperfections in a wall or on a piece of furniture. And the environment has to be carefully controlled, so airborne dust particles don’t mar the surface. It’s a tricky job, Ebright says.
“FPE aren’t like domestic paints,” he says. “You’ve got to know how to thin it, how to set the pressure [in the sprayer], how to lay it right, or it will sag and drip.
“You can’t get frustrated when you’re working with it, because it will bite you like a dog.”
Ebright laughs when he recalls how he had to cut his braid at the start of his tenure with Holtz & Son and points to another change in his hair, one that took years to develop.
“I came to work here with brown hair, and now it’s gray,” he says.